Australia makes historic shift on Timor Sea boundary, agrees to negotiate


Xanana Gusmao addressing the conciliation commission in The Hague last year.

The Turnbull government has quietly overturned a 50-year foreign policy by agreeing to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary with East Timor.

A joint statement issued today the two countries emerged out of compulsory conciliation proceedings, which is being conducted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“For the further conduct of the conciliation process, the governments of Timor-Leste and Australia have each confirmed to the other their commitment to negotiate permanent maritime boundaries under the auspices of the Commission as part of the integrated package of measures agreed by both countries,” the statement said.

“The governments of Timor-Leste and Australia look forward to continuing to engage with the Conciliation Commission and to the eventual conclusion of an agreement on maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea. ”

“The Commission will hold a number of meetings over the course of the year, which will largely be conducted in a confidential setting.”

“The governments of Australia and Timor-Leste remain committed to their close relationship and continue to work together on shared economic, development and regional interests.”

The announcement marks a major shift by Australia since the conciliation proceedings began last year in The Hague.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has yet to explain the reasoning for the dramatic change in policy

Last year, Australia argued unsuccessfully that the five-member conciliation commission did not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute. It also argued that pre-existing treaties were legally binding.

The conciliation outcome will not be binding on the two countries, but today’s announcement indicates the Australia’s representatives have a mandate to negotiate.

Today’s announcement confirmed that Timor has given written notice that it planned to terminate the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) which was struck in 2006.

Link to joint statement:

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